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    The Sabbath Since the Reformation.

    With the commencement of the Reformation a new spirit of religious inquiry was awakened. Nearly every item of Christian practice was brought under consideration, and not dismissed until either approved or rejected. Among the subjects for discussion we find the Sabbath early introduced and thoroughly examined. There were three leading views then maintained by different classes of the Reformers, which deserve particular notice.BISA 38.1

    1. One class of Reformers there was, who, dwelling alone on the sufficiency of faith, and the freeness of the Gospel, trembled at the thought of imposing rules upon men, and seemed to fear the term law. These declared that the law of the Sabbath was abolished; that Sunday was no Sabbath, only a festival of the church, which had been appointed, and might be altered at her pleasure. That we may not be thought in error here, as well as to give a fuller understanding of the opinions of that time, we will present the assertions of some of these men.BISA 38.2

    Bishop Cranmer’s Catechism, A. D. 1548, says: — “The Jews were commanded in the Old Testament to keep the Sabbath-day, and they observed it every seventh day, called the Sabbath, or Saturday; but we Christian men are not bound to such commandments in Moses’ law, and therefore we now keep no more the Sabbath, or Saturday, as the Jews did, but we observe the Sunday and some other days, as the magistrates do judge convenient.”BISA 38.3

    William Tindal says, in his answer to More, chap. 25: “We be lords over the Sabbath, and may change it into Monday, or any other day, as we see need. Or may make every tenth day holy-day, only if we see cause why; we may make two every week, if it were expedient, and one not enough to teach the people. Neither was there any cause to change it from the Saturday than to put difference between us and the Jew, and lest we should become servants to the day after their superstition.”BISA 38.4

    Bullinger, on Revelation 1:10, says: — “Christian churches entertained the Lord’s day not upon any commandment from God, but according to their free choice.”BISA 39.1

    Melancthon says:— “The Lord’s day from the Apostles’ age, hath been a solemn day: notwithstanding, we find not the same commanded by any Apostolic law; but it is collected from hence that the observation thereof was free, because Epiphanius and St. Augustine testify that on the fourth and the sixth days of the week church assemblies were held, as well as upon the Lord’s day.”BISA 39.2

    The Augustan Confession, drawn up by Melancthon, and approved by Luther, says: — “We teach that traditions are not to be condemned which have a religious end, ...... namely, traditions concerning holy-days, the Lord’s day, the feast of the nativity, Easter, etc.”BISA 39.3

    These passages distinctly do away with the Sabbath, and place the observation of Lord’s day on the ground of human authority. In the books of some early authors who adopted these views, may be found frequent references to a difficulty which drove them to deny the perpetuity of the Sabbath. Bishop White, in 1635, says: — “If the fourth commandment, concerning the keeping of the seventh day, is moral and perpetual, then it is not such in respect to the first and eighth day; for this precept requireth the observance of that one only day which it specifieth in that commandment.” In speaking of Lord’s day, he says: — “Every day of the week and of the year is the Lord’s; and the Sunday is no more the Lord’s by the law of the fourth commandment, than the Friday; for the Lord’s day of that fourth commandment is the Saturday.”BISA 39.4

    In each of these quotations it seems to have been felt to be inconsistent to allow the perpetuity of the Sabbath, without keeping the seventh day. But to come back to this ancient day, and keep it in company with Jews, seemed too great a change. Hence the abrogation of the institution was asserted, as the easiest way of escaping from the dilemma. John Milton, speaking of this difficulty, says: — “If we under the Gospel are to regulate the time of our public worship by the prescriptions of the Decalogue, it will surely be far safer to observe the seventh day, according to the express command of God, than on the authority of mere human conjecture, to adopt the first.”BISA 39.5

    Another influence which led to the rejection of the Sabbath by these men, was the view of it which was held by the Roman Church. When the leaders of the Reformation separated from that church, it was claimed that all her festival days, including Sunday, were holier than other days, not only in relation to the use made of them, but to a natural and inherent holiness wherewith they thought them to be invested. In addition to this, many and hurtful restraints had been imposed upon the consciences of God’s people, until these were days of punishment rather than holy pleasure and profit. Seeing the days perverted from their real design, and made the means of strengthening papal power, it is not surprising that they were discarded together. Anxious to escape one error, they embraced another equally dangerous.BISA 39.6

    2. But another class of Reformers, (probably somewhat fearful of the consequences of those lax notions to which we have just referred,) considering that the Sabbath was given in Paradise, rehearsed at Sinai, and placed among the precepts of the Decalogue, declared that it must be moral in its nature, and perpetually binding. But having allowed its perpetuity, and having rested its claims upon the fourth commandment, the way of explaining and enforcing the change of the day, presented an obstacle to the spread of this view. How this was removed, let their own words answer. Dr. Bound, in 1595, says, “The fourth commandment is simply and perpetually moral, and not ceremonial in whole or in part.” Richard Byfield, 1630, says, “The fourth commandment is part of the law of nature, and thus part of the image of God, and is no more capable of a ceremony to be in it than God is.” Afterwards he says, “The institution of the Lord’s day is clearly in the work of Christ’s resurrection; as the institution of the seventh day was in the work of finishing the creation.” “The resurrection applieth and determineth the Sabbath of the fourth commandment to the Lord’s day.” Such was the course of reasoning adopted by this class of persons. Having established the morality and perpetuity of the Sabbath by means of Scripture, and brought the sanctions of the word of God to sustain them, they apply all this to the support of an institution, the existence and time of keeping which is inferred from Christ’s resurrection. It is easy to see what must have been the consequence.BISA 40.1

    3. A third class may be found among the disputants about the Sabbath, who endeavored, by strict adherence to the Scriptures, to escape the difficulties and inconsistencies into which others had been led. They contended for the early institution of the Sabbath, for its morality and perpetuity as inferred from its being placed in the Decalogue, and for the seventh day of the week, as an essential and necessary part of the commandment. Theophilus Brabourne, in 1628, says: — “1. The fourth commandment of the Decalogue is a divine precept, simply and entirely moral, containing nothing legally ceremonial, in whole or in part, and therefore the weekly observation thereof ought to be perpetual, and to continue in full force and virtue to the world’s end. 2. The Saturday, or seventh day of the week, ought to be an everlasting holy-day in the Christian Church, and the religious observation of this day obligeth Christians under the Gospel, as it did the Jews before the coming of Christ. 3. The Sunday, or Lord’s day, is an ordinary working day; and it is superstition and will-worship to make the same the Sabbath of the fourth commandment.” These opinions were vindicated by Brabourne, in two volumes, which appeared, one in 1628, and the other in 1632. They have never been answered to the satisfaction of many candid minds. It is true, an answer has been attempted. But this answer, laboring as it did mainly to prove that such doctrine “is repugnant to the public sentence of the Church of England, and to the sentence of divines who lived at the beginning of the Reformation,” could not satisfy one who believed the Scriptures to be a sufficient rule of faith and practice. To these volumes might be added others, which appeared soon after, and to the results of which, living witnesses have testified from that day to this. It was while the discussion just referred to was yet in progress, that King James, in 1618, published his Book of Sports for Sunday, in which is set forth, that “by the preciseness of some magistrates and ministers in several places in this kingdom, in hindering people from their recreations on the Sunday; the papists in this realm being thereby persuaded that no honest mirth or recreation was tolerable in our religion,” wherefore, it pleased his majesty to set out his declaration, “that for his good people’s lawful recreation, his pleasure was, that after the end of divine service, they should not be disturbed, letted, or discouraged from any lawful recreation, such as dancing, either men or women, archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmless recreations; nor from having of May-games, Whitsun-Ales, or Morrice-dances, and setting up of May-poles, or other sports therewith used; so as the same be had in due and convenient time, without impediment or let of divine service.” This was designed in part, probably, to counteract what was then called the puritan notion, and may be regarded as expressing the opinion of the English Church at that time in regard to the sacredness of the day. The same was re-published in 1636, by Charles, with how much real effect upon the practices of men it is not easy to determine.BISA 40.2

    It is evident that a reaction in favor of the institution had already commenced; and the earnestness of Puritanism on this subject, joined to the influence of Sabbatarianism, has affected almost the whole body of the English Church. Puritanism and Sabbatarianism deserve the credit of having preserved to that country a regard for the day of rest, which raises them infinitely above many other Protestant countries. Had they taken Scripture ground, the result can hardly be predicted.BISA 42.1

    By what has here been said in regard to the observation of the Sabbath, after the Reformation, it is not to be supposed that there are no traces of it since the Christian era until that time. It is believed that there have been Christians in every age who have kept holy the seventh day. During the first three centuries of the Christian Church, the Sabbath seems to have been almost universally kept. It was kept generally in the Eastern Church for six hundred years. And from that time onward to the present, frequent traces of Sabbath-keepers may be found, either in the history of individuals, or in the acts of Councils against those who kept it. These notices extend to the time of the Reformation; and are as frequent as are the references to the first day of the week under the title of Lord’s day.BISA 42.2

    When we enter upon that period of Reform, we find that Sabbath-keepers appear in Germany late in the fifteenth or early in the sixteenth century, according to Ross’s Picture of All Religions. By this we are to understand that their ministers were such as to lead to organization, and attract attention. A number of these formed a church, and emigrated to America in the early settlement of the country. There were Sabbath-keepers in Transylvania, among whom was Francis Darinis, the chaplain to the Court of Sigismund, the prince of that kingdom, and afterwards superintendent of all the Transylvanian countries. In France, also, there were Christians of this class, among whom was M. de la Roque, who wrote in defence of the Sabbath, against Bossuet, the Catholic Bishop of Meaux. But it is difficult to determine to what extent this day was observed in those countries.BISA 42.3

    In England we find Sabbath-keepers very early. Dr. Chambers says: “They arose in England in the sixteenth century,” from which we understand that they then became a distinct denomination in that kingdom. They increased considerably in the seventeenth century; and we find that towards the close of that century there were eleven flourishing churches in different parts of the country. Among those who held this view are some names of distinction. Theophilus Brabourne was called before the Court of High Commission, in 1632, for having written and published books vindicating the claims of the seventh day. One Traske was about the same time examined in the Starr Chamber where a long discussion about the subject seems to have been held. Nearly thirty years after this, John James, preacher to a Sabbath-keeping congregation in the east of London, was executed in a barbarous manner, upon a variety of charges, among which was his keeping of the Sabbath. Twenty years later still, Francis Bampfield died in Newgate, a martyr to non-conformity — especially as one who could not conform in the matter of the Sabbath. It is needless to mention other names, or to speak particularly of Edward, Joseph, Dr. Joseph and Dr. Samuel Stennett, John Maulden, Robert Cornthwaite, and others, who have written and suffered in proof of their attachment to this truth.BISA 42.4

    But the Sabbath found great opposition in England, being assailed both from the pulpit and the press, by those who were attached to the established church. Many men of learning and talent engaged in the discussion on both sides of the question. It is evident that the opposers of reform felt unable to defend themselves against the strength of talent and Scripture brought against them. Therefore, as in similar cases, they excited the civil powers to check the progress of the Dissenters by passing the famous Conventicle Act. By this law, passed in 1664, it was provided that if any person above sixteen years of age was present at any meeting of worship different from the Church of England, where there were five persons more than the household, for the first offence he should be imprisoned three months, or pay five pounds; for the second, the penalty was doubled; and for the third he should be banished to America, or pay one hundred pounds sterling. This act was renewed in 1669, which, in addition to the former penalties, made the person preaching liable to pay a fine of twenty pounds; and the same penalty was imposed upon any person suffering a meeting to be held in his house. Justices of the Peace were empowered to enter such houses, and seize such persons; and they were fined one hundred pounds if they neglected doing so. These acts were exceedingly harassing to those who observed the Sabbath. Many of their distinguished ministers were taken from their flocks and confined in prison, some of whom sunk under their sufferings. These persecutions not only prevented those who kept the Sabbath from assembling, but deterred some who embraced their opinions from uniting with them, and discouraged others from investigating the subject. At present the Sabbath is not as extensively observed in England as formerly. But the extent of Sabbath-keeping cannot be determined by the number and magnitude of the churches, either there or in other countries. For many persons live in the observation of the seventh day and remain members of churches which assemble on the first day; and a still greater number acknowledge its correctness, who conform to the more popular custom of keeping the first day.BISA 43.1

    At what time the Sabbath became the subject of attention on this side of the Atlantic we cannot definitely say. The intolerance of the first settlers of New England was unfavorable to the Sabbath. The poor Christian that may have been banished to this country for its observance could find no refuge among the Pilgrim Fathers. The laws of Rhode Island were more tolerant, and observers of the Sabbath first made their appearance in Newport, in that State, in 1671. The cause of the Sabbath has gradually gained strength in this country from that period; but it has found much to oppose its progress, even in Rhode Island. It was in opposition to the general practice of Christians, on which account an odium was put upon it, and those who have kept the Sabbath have been reproached with Judaizing and classed with Jews. Besides this, they have been subjected to great inconvenience in their occupations, especially in cities and towns. In Connecticut the laws were intolerant and oppressive to the Sabbath cause.BISA 44.1

    At no time does there appear to have been in this country any general excitement on this subject. The friends of Sunday have avoided as far as possible its dissension; so that those who have observed the Sabbath have had but little encouragement as they have supposed, to try to extend their sentiments. But the propagation of their opinions has not exclusively depended on their efforts. The common English version of the Bible has been found in many instances a sufficient means of converting men to the Sabbath. Churches observing and assembling on the Sabbath, have been founded in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and in most of the new States, embracing as is supposed, a population of forty or fifty thousand. — Sabbath Tract No. 4.BISA 44.2

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